Biryani and Pulao: The Origin and its Delightful diversities.Feb 22, 2019
Many invaders have set their foot in the Indian sub-continent, leaving behind their valuable cuisines and cultures to this country. Anybody coming to India for the first time would never leave back to their country without ticking off Biriyani from their bucket list. Such is the fame and name of this popular rice dish. It also has a counter-part to it called the Pulao or Pilaf which is also made from rice. So what’s the fuss about the differences between eating a biriyani or a pulao? Is it going to make any difference? – Absolutely Yes!
The name biriyani has been derived from the Persian word ‘Birian’ meaning ‘fried before cooking’ or ‘Birinj’ meaning ‘rice’. History says that Timur, the Turco-Mongol conqueror, introduced this when he arrived at the Indian borders in 1398. He fed his army with a clay pot full of rice, meat and spices that would be cooked in the earth oven and dug up to be served. Some records say that the dish was brought to India by Arab traders who frequented the Malabar Coast. Tamil literature dates back to 2nd century, claiming that the soldiers were fed with ‘Oon Soru’ meaning ‘meat rice’ prepared using rice, ghee, meat, turmeric and other spices such as pepper, bay leaf, coriander etc.
The name pulao has been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Pulaaka’ meaning ‘ball of rice’. History dates Pulao back to Alexander the Great’s time. He is said to have had Pulao for the first time in the Bactria region (now a part of Afghanistan) - likely to be his wife’s birth place. Pulao seems to be prevalent among many countries, in different versions though. The best pulao award goes to the one that has non-sticky, separate grains of rice that can stand individually. The rice is left to be soaked in salty water for several hours so that it brings out a shine in each grain. From the Persians, it spread wide to different countries - The Spanish added seafood and saffron to it and called it paella, the Turks called it pilav, and the Italians called it risotto.
Here are the main differences between the two royal ranis (queens):
Biriyani is prepared using ‘Layering’ method – First, the meat is marinated and cooked separately with spices. Rice is separately par boiled. Then these are arranged in layers in a thick bottomed vessel/ clay pot and closed with a layer of dough to be cooked in dum (slow cooking).
Pulao is prepared using ‘Absorption’ method – Meat or the vegetables are cooked/sauteed first. Then washed rice and water are added according to a tried and tested ratio. Cooked until done. Basically, a one pot meal which needs simple cooking skills.
Biriyani needs a lot of patience and takes time, typically 1-2 hours to taste the final product. Cooking a biriyani is an art by itself. Marinating, layering, adding the right amount of spices and cooking time are all critical to get that best biriyani out of the pot.
Pulao, on the other hand, takes normal cooking time. Handy to feed instant guests without invitation. The rice: water ratio and spice levels determine the quality.
Main dish – Side dish
Biriyani is a main dish that needs only a raita (a condiment made with yogurt) or simple chutney to go with. Just the biriyani without any accompaniments also feels heavenly to the taste buds.
Pulao is little mild and simple. Hence always goes with a main curry such as Panneer gravy, Vegetable curry, Chicken/Mutton gravy, Aloo Dum etc.
Veg or Non-veg
What is a biriyani if there is no meat in it? Biriyani is always welcomed with a Chicken or a Mutton prefixed to it. Many cuisines have developed their own way of making it. Mughal biriyani, Lucknow biriyani, Kolkatta biriyani, the very famous Hyderabadi biriyani, Dindigul thalappakkatti biriyani, Ambur biriyani, Bombay biriyani, Bangalore biriyani etc. to name some of them.
Pulao, as the name sounds very sadhu (ascetic), is usually had in the vegetarian form. Peas pulao, Panneer pulao, Methi pulao, Vegetable pulao, Kashmiri pulao, Mushroom pulao, Channa pulao, Tomato pulao, Corn pulao, Cashew pulao etc.
Now that you know how to differentiate a biriyani from a pulao, next time give handy tips to your friends saying – ‘All that glitters is not gold; All that has meat and rice is not a biriyani to be sold’.